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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Alarm raised on housing costs

North Idaho’s tourist communities have a wealth of homes and condos planned for millionaires, but the people who serve those communities — the teachers, police, retailers and barbers — are in danger of being priced out of town.

Hundreds of Realtors, developers and lenders attending the 2006 Real Estate Market Forum, presented by The Spokane-Kootenai Real Estate Research Committee, heard that sobering message on Thursday.

Amid news of Coeur d’Alene projects such as Parkside — an 18-story building with 53 condos — and the $100 million Gozzer Ranch Golf and Lake Club being developed above Arrow Point, came the message that a growing number of workers are unable to afford basic homes in and near Sandpoint and Coeur d’Alene.

Jack Beebe, vice chairman of the Idaho Housing and Finance Association and a prominent real estate broker in Coeur d’Alene, said the area’s lack of affordable housing could threaten its ability to attract big companies.

Beebe related a worst-case scenario taking place in Sun Valley, Idaho, where a CEO of a company with 650 employees told Beebe he spends much of his time looking for housing solutions for his workers. The Sun Valley company buses employees back and forth to work from their homes in Twin Falls, about 90 miles away, Beebe said.

Community leaders are telling Beebe that police officers and teachers have moved away because they can’t afford homes in Coeur d’Alene, he said. He did a little math to prove his point: A teacher making a starting salary of $28,000 wouldn’t qualify for the mortgage on an average-priced home in Kootenai County, which runs $210,000 and carries a payment of about $1,200 a month, he said.

“In Sandpoint it takes twice the median family income to qualify for the least expensive homes,” Beebe said.

Mortgages are being stretched to 40 years and buyers are piggybacking loans to keep up with price increases of nearly 30 percent in the past year.Beebe’s address followed a series of speakers who showcased projects catering to wealthier buyers, many migrating to the area from larger cities.

Andy Holleran, vice president of Discovery Land Co., the group developing Gozzer Ranch, said a growing demographic for the company’s upscale golf communities is people who are buying their third and fourth homes. Lots at Gozzer Ranch start at $200,000 and custom homes can cost more than a million dollars.

But when Beebe, the broker and owner of Beebe, McKernan and Daboll, took the podium, he urged his colleagues to get involved in the affordable housing problem.

“Those of us in the real estate profession are going to have to take a really proactive role,” he said.

Realtors can talk to developers about including a percentage of affordable homes in their projects, Beebe suggested, and they can improve the general perception of manufactured homes, which are more affordable than traditional stick-built homes. “It’s a serious situation,” Beebe said.